Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ben Hardaway Changed My Life...

So a while back I was at a hunting do, and Mr. Hardaway told the story of how he unintentionally joined the MFHA. The parts of his life he has chosen to tell fill a thick book, and I'm sure that much was left out. There are lots of stories other people tell about him, too- usually they are like the stories about Jack Mytton.

I have one of those myself, but I have another one too and this is it.

Long long ago, when I was still a groom, I had an interesting day. It was #$%^& COLD, and I was out in the ten inch deep snowy paddock breaking ice out of water buckets. As the chips of slush frothed up, I thought, "This is all fun now when I'm 20, but I don't want to be doing it when I'm 40." And that stuck in my mind. Along with the usual background drumming of my low grade white hat fever.

A couple of months later, maybe March. I was knocking off a horse when the intercom buzzed that I had a call. Picked it up and it was my stepfather, who had never called me before, on the line.

"I've been thinking. Taking care of horses isn't really the best use of your talents, is it?"

(A little irritated on behalf of all my groom/hunt service/horse bum friends, but remembering the icy buckets)

"Probably not."

"You ought to go back to school and finish your degree. If you will, I'll pay for it."

"Thank you. I'll start next term."

I finished with the horse, put it in its stall, fed, and gave in two months notice. Hated to do it, too, because my New York family is the BEST.

So a month or six weeks went by and I was sitting in the kitchen reading the Chronicle, starting of course at the help wanted adverts. (This, O best beloved, was before there was an internets.)

And there it was, whipper in wanted, Midland foxhounds.

Mind you, this was in the very heyday of Mr. Hardaway's career hunting hounds. I considered it (fwmoiw) one of the two best hunt service places in the country.

So I called, and Mr. Hardaway called me down. By this time I was like a week away from leaving New York and going back south to University. I spent two days hunting beside him, looking at the arrangements, going out with fifty couple of hounds.

It wasn't some fake out interview either, like law firms do where they treat you like you're on the first date and then once you sign up you're the scullery drab. No, he showed it with the bark off, so I knew what to expect.

It was like the apotheosis of hunt service to my eyes. No way would I get this opportunity.

And then as I was about to head back to the airport, he offered me the place.

And my head was just full. Not just because the back to school offer might not be made again. This was long term, it was a decision about the general direction of my whole life.

And I explained that to Mr. Hardaway. That I wanted the place, but because of the University offer this was absolutely a fork in the road for me. I knew that I would say yes, and I told him that because it was so important I wanted to be sure, to sleep (as if I could sleep!) on the decision.

And he said, "No. If you aren't sure now, you don't want it badly enough. I'll find someone else."

I know still that I would have said yes in the morning, without any reservation.

I might have broken my neck in the Georgia woods the first week, or fallen in kennel and been eaten except for my skul, and my feete, & the palmes of my hands. Perhaps someone else would have trod the path I did more effectively.

Would it have been a good decision, or a bad one?

I do know that ten or fifteen people are alive now, and some dangerous predators are locked up, because I didn't get to make that decision.

So Mr. Hardaway didn't just change my life that morning, he did others' lives as well.

I'm sure Mad Jack changed some lives too, but no one tells those stories.

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